HIV and AIDS testing declined by more than 50 percent last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Nikkiah Forbes said yesterday.
“When we had the outbreak in March 2020, and the difficult year that we had, we did continue to provide HIV treatment, care and other options,” said Forbes, who serves as director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme.
“In fact, our offices, our clinics stayed open throughout those lockdowns. The good thing was that treatment did not decline significantly.
“We were able to keep just about the same number of people on treatment but testing did decline by about 55 percent in the year 2020.”
Forbes said the government is now taking steps to expand its HIV and AIDS testing.
She noted that individuals can be tested for free through the government system including the National Reference and the HIV-AIDS Centre.
“There are other options that people can get testing through the Public Hospitals Authority and the clinics, for example, or at your private doctor’s offices,” Forbes said.
“We are in the process of working to validate the HIV self-testing which is something that is needed and, in theory, it has been supported across the Caribbean and in The Bahamas.
“It does require a validation step; and we are looking at how it can be validated and look at the acceptability and accuracy for patients and how they’re linked to care. We hope that we will be able to announce that that’s available soon.”
As of December 2020, according to Forbes, 4,700 people were living with HIV in The Bahamas.
She said that between 2010 and 2019, there was a 53 percent decrease in new infections nationally.
Forbes said there was also a 52 percent decrease in AIDS-related deaths.
“There are no cases of mother-to-baby HIV transmission in the year 2020 and indeed in the years 2019 and 2015, there were also no cases of mother-to-baby HIV transmission,” she said.
“Unfortunately, we do still have single cases or cases in the single digits in other years. One or two babies are sadly born with HIV because their mothers may not come and get antenatal care early or because they are not on antiretroviral therapy or opt not to take antiretroviral therapy.”